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Creation of the New Principality of Powys
In 1487, King Owain V settled on the political landscape that was to shape Wales until the modern era. He decided to bring back principalities, below the level of the Crown. This was done for practical reasons, Wales traditionally did not have straight father to son inheritance, though this had altered with the years of English rule that preceded the restoration of independence, but it was still not a settled arrangement and Owain had a younger son to consider. The other main reason was one of local control. Wales is a disparate country, with mountains bearing the way north to south, therefore the Kings authority can be resisted. By creating a network of lords, Owain reasoned that he could control them centrally and leave them to control Wales locally.
To this end he brought back three of the ancient Principalities. Gywnedd, Powys and curiously, Morgannwg. Gywnedd the king took for himself, giving the Crown an independent measure of control away from Parliament. Powys was gifted to his youngest son, Maredudd, whilst the resurrection of Morgannwg as a principality owed more to the logic of invasion than anything else. The easiest route into Wales was along the south Wales coast as Norman invader after Norman invader had proven. Putting a strong lord in control of this region helped ensure Wales future should the English abrogate the Treaty of London and invade.
The House of Powys-FadogThe Prince Maredudd was just 8 years old when his father invested him in the title of Prince of Powys in Bangor Cathedral on the 1st September 1487. For the first few years of his reign he resided in Caernarfon with his mother, the Queen Anne. The occasion of his marriage, to Sian ferch Iorwerth ab Tomas on the 1st March 1496 saw him gain his early majority and he left court to take up residence at the Marcher fortress of Montgomery.
Prince Maredudd was destined to live long in the world, dying at the early age of 30 in 1510. However, he lived long enough to leave behind him two sons, Rhys and Owain, who would themselves leave an indelible mark on Welsh history.
The Prince Rhys
In early Welsh history there are few characters more well known than Prince Rhys I of Powys. Under his reign, (1510-1551), the Principality of Powys became the powerhouse of Welsh politics. Rhys was only 13 years old when his father died after falling from his horse, and therefore the first five years of his reign, his mother, the Lady Sian, ruled Powys, however, come his eighteenth birthday, Rhys assumed full control of the Principality. His formative years were spent watching the rule of his cousin, Hywel I. As a role model, Hywel was to give Rhys ideas of how Wales should be ruled that would later prove so disastrous to the Prince. With the death of the king in 1513 the young and impressionable Hywel II came to the throne and the 17 year old Prince of Powys, whilst still not yet in full control of his own principality, sought the advantage at court that his blood kinship with the new king allowed him. At the turning of his majority Rhys had achieved a stunning coup de tat, not only had he claimed his full birthright from his mother, he had gained the title of Chancellor as well. For an 18 year old prince this was an intoxicating mix of power and two years later used his position to raise his younger brother to the Duchy of Gwent. This also resulted in the elevation of a political rival, in the now Duke of March, but the young Prince Rhys was cocky enough to push through.
Rhys used his position to divert funds to both his castle and seat in Montgomery, but also to the county town of Welshpool, the civic centre of his Principality. His castle was enlarged, whilst in Welshpool a new town hall, law court and market were built.
During the 1530's Powys' grip on power remained constant, guiding Wales' politics with an increasing ease, but with Henry VIII's increasing domestic changes, Welsh policy was always struggling to keep up with the English. Powys, seeing an opportunity for gain started to agitate for armed action against England, with Powys sending his brother to Rome to gain Papal blessing for the war. From 1535 to 37 Powys saw to the massive militarisation of Gwlad yr Haf, the territory gained by Wales from the Treaty of Bath and finally in 1537 Powys launched his war, making his rival, the Duke of March lead the Welsh armies into Somerset.
1st Anglo-Welsh War
The war itself was a damp squib, with the Duke of March dying more or less on the first day of the war and Powys having to take over personal command of the army. Wales managed to secure coastal territory but could not strike out inland. The English for their part could not dislodge the Welsh from Bristol and the war ended in a stalemate, with the Treaty of Somerset leaving Wales with the Northern Coast territory, but losing Bath and some of the hinterland from Gwlad yr Haf.
After the War
Prince Rhys' personal power base took a knock from the war and whilst he retained the Chancellorship, the remaining 5 years of Hywel's reign were quiet ones for the power-hungry prince. With the Kings death however, the Prince was moved to action. Hywel died childless and whilst he had indicated in his will that he wished the throne to pass to his brother, the Prince Rhodri, Rhys decided to push his claim to the throne based on his descent from Maredudd ab Owain. Here Rhys's chickens came home to roost. His abrasive style of rule since 1515 had not left him loved by his fellow nobles. One by one they all declared for Rhodri.
King Rhodri and the Fall of a Prince
King Rhodri came to the throne a 41 year old man, and a man who had lived his life in the shadow of Rhys of Powys. Powys was a man Rhodri neither liked nor trusted. As a result once crowned, one of his first actions was to remove Rhys from the Chancellorship. One thing that the new King and the Prince did have in common though was the belief that it was a good time to wage war on England. Rhodri continued the war in Somerset (the 2nd Anglo-Welsh war) whilst in Powys, Rhys was attempting a new bid for power. Whilst trying to have the king killed Rhys tried to implement a Protestant revolution within Powys. In this he failed. His own local nobles had no wish to leave the Catholic Church and the people had no more love of Rhys than anyone else had. As a result he was captured and handed over to Rhodri, who had him sent to Machynlleth to be held pending trial for treason and heresy. On the 14th March 1551 in full view of all his peers and the King, Rhys was executed by beheading in Parliament Square Machynlleth.
The Prince Morgan - Plant Cythraul (The Devils Offspring)
Prince Morgan was the eldest son of Prince Rhys, he was also the most closely associated man with his father's policies. Born on the 12th April 1520 he witnessed the greatest years of his fathers political career as Chancellor of Wales. Morgan was more fiery, more combative, more assertive than his father, his shock of red hair coupled with these tendencies gave rise to his nickname, Plant Cythrual or the Devils Offspring. Whilst for Rhys the Lutheran experiment had been a means to an end, for Morgan it was different, he was deeply moved by the religious arguments and just eight years after his fathers execution, he launches his own Lutheran Revolution again within Powys. This time he has more success than this father, with the King Consort, Lennox MacGregor needing to lead an army into Powys crushing the nascent Protestant Principality before it had time to spread its roots. At the special Parliament of 1560, Morgan was forced to renounce Lutheranism in order to retain his crown.
Morgan however has only gone quiet, in the background he is encouraging Calvinist preachers to come to Wales, he himself is busying grooming the Crown Prince, Marc, in the Lutheran faith. By 1596 the Powys Court is again almost openly Lutheran and in 1598 they gain the convery they have long courted, Prince Marc.
This seems to be Morgan's hour of victory, he has the Crown Prince in the palm of his hand and the Queen is elderly and not long left for this world. She dies in the November of 1598 with Marc succeeding her. Here again, Powys' plans unravel. Only Powys supports Marc, the rest of the nobility, rallied by the Duke of March throw their weight behind Rhys, Duke of Dehubarth. The ensuing war sees first Marc die, then Rhys Duke of Dehubarth. This leaves Morgan, the Crown Prince and the new 12 year old Duke of Dehubarth as the only claimants to the throne and Morgan sees a chance to elevate himself to the throne. Morgan kills the Crown Prince in the Battle of Strata Florida, but then Morgan dies just a short time later in the Skirmish of Builth Wells, again ending the hopes of the House of Powys Fadog of climbing onto the throne of Wales.
List of the Princes of Powys
- Maredudd I - Prince: 1487-1510
- Rhys I - Prince: 1510-1551
- Morgan - Prince: 1551-1600
- Alecsander - Prince: 1600-1607
- Rhys II - Prince: 1607-1615
- Dafydd - Prince: 1615-1638
- Maredudd II - Prince 1638-1682
- Llewellyn - Prince: 1682-1718 (Died in the 3rd Anglo-Welsh War)
- Maredudd III - Prince: 1718-1719 (Brother of Llewellyn)
- Dafydd II - Prince: 1719-1738
- Maredudd IV - Prince: 1738-1768 (Died in the 2nd War of Independaence)
- Iolo - Prince: 1768-1804
- Iorwerth - Prince: 1804-1836
- The Lady Briallen - Princess: 1836-1891
- Ieuan - Prince: 1891-1911 (Family name changes to Powys Fadog-Thomas)
- Owain - Prince: 1911-1960 (Grandson of Ieuan)
- Gwilym - Prince: 1960-1990
- Iorwerth II - Prince: 1990-Present (Heir is Hywel, Lord of Welshpool)